Report: Accessibility, Privacy & Campus Support Can Be Key to College Success

Going from high school to college — especially when that includes moving and living away from home — is a big step in any young adult’s life. When that young adult also has a disability, an already huge process can become even more complicated. A new report from a team of researchers at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., sheds light on the features and factors that can increase the chances of a successful transition and university experience.

The study is named “Pre-Enrollment Considerations of Undergraduate Wheelchair Users & Their Post-Enrollment Transitions,” published in the Journal of Postsecondary Education & Disability.

Researchers discovered that choosing a college “is more complex” for a student with a disability than for peers without disabilities, and that transitioning from high school to college can be difficult.

But the researchers also noted that students eventually “relished” college life. “From being able to get to and from class on their own, to hanging out with friends, a feeling of independence was the key to integrating into college,” the report said. “Just like other students, these students had learned how to navigate the higher education setting and self advocate for their needs.” The study said that strong support in the form of disability services was one of the criteria that students with disabilities and their families looked for when choosing a college. Students also wanted “wide availability of automated doors on buildings and residence hall rooms, special housing for wheelchair users, a community where wheelchair users were visible and prevalent, one-on-one faculty mentorships, a student support group, local accessible transportation and the director of disability services clearly visible on campus.”

Half of the study’s participants indicated that being able to live in a private room with its own accessible bathroom was a very important factor in their decision making, since many students with disabilities were accompanied by aides who assisted them with activities of daily living such as bathing and getting dressed.

Researchers made several recommendations to colleges as a result of their study:

-- Create a well-developed disability services office with professional staff that can facilitate appropriate accommodations and also instruct students on how to be independent.

-- Invest in making the campus accessible to wheelchair users.

-- Provide regular training for admissions staff members on access to college and accessibility issues.

-- Provide multiple ways for students who use wheelchairs to become socially integrated.

-- The disability services staff and/or housing personnel need to provide information to students regarding attendant care, which many students need to live in a campus residence hall.

The study noted that about 2.27 million college students in 2008 reported that they had a disability. The Ball State University research team was composed of Roger Wessel, a higher education professor in the Department of Educational Studies; Darolyn Jones, an English professor; Larry Markle, director of Ball State’s Office of Disability Services; and Christina Blanch, a doctoral candidate in educational studies.

Wessel said, in light of the study, “Students in wheelchairs with their families should be encouraged to seek out available resources on campus, especially from disability services offices, to help create a seamless academic and social transition. Competent and student-centered staff in a disability services office can make the transition process smoother.”

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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